I was listening to an older episode of Risky Biz (282) where they were discussing the concept of homomorphic encryption and how it can be applied to secure cloud computing. Basically, this type of operation involves performing computing operations on data while its encrypted rather than having to decrypt it first. It’s obvious to see the application of this technology for use in the cloud.
The idea of homomorphic encryption has been around since the 1970s but with the popularity of cloud computing and recent research there is a renewed interest in this area. One of the main drivers was a paper written by Craig Gentry in 2008. The key part of the paper that revolutionized how people thought about this problem involved using the example of a jewelry manufacturer keeping designers from stealing materials while simultaneously allowing them to fabricate the jewelry pieces using a clear locked glove box. If you don’t know what a locked glove box is, it’s basically what Homer Simpson uses in the opening sequence of The Simpsons when he’s initially handling the nuclear rods.
The manufacturer places all the necessary precious metals into the locked container and a designer uses the gloves to reach into the box and manipulate the materials into completed pieces. Gentry discussed one potential solution however researchers found it impractical at the time. The locked glove box analogy, however, helped put a renewed interest into finding a potential solution. Since then other researchers in the field have come up with more efficient methods for implementing the locked glove box analogy. Although no general solution has been discovered yet, several have come about for solving specific specialty problems, such as simple addition. IBM has also released an open source toolkit that simplifies others’ ability to research the homomorphic encryption problem.
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RSA is one example